Contemplation: Thinking, Reflecting, Meditating

A global survey conducted by The World Economic Forum, reveals that 86% of respondents believe there is a global leadership crisis.

“Remember, be mindful of the thoughts you think, words you speak and company you keep,” a friendly reminder from a father to his children. Dad often reminded his girls that it was in everyone’s best interest to pause for quiet contemplation and consider options and impact before taking action.

Introverts are contemplative in nature. Research confirms the brains of introverts and extroverts are stimulated differently, depending on the circumstances. It has a lot to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure systems. Introverts not only prefer peaceful solitude but need it while extroverts require more stimulation from the world in order to feel alert and awake. The physiology of the brains of introverts and extroverts are different. The good news, according to Norman Doidge, M.D., is that the human brain can change itself. The ability to contemplate can be developed if there is a desire to do so.

Historical Snapshot

Look back over history and you will discover a growing list of contemplative leaders who have left legacies for positive change, these include:

  • Mahatma Gandhi Legacy: Peace/Pacifism. Leader of Indian independence movement.
    Philosophy of Satyagraha, Ahimsa or nonviolence. Promoted the concept of self-rule.
  • Mother TeresaLegacy: Founder-Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic (R.C.) congregation. Managed homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; dispensaries and mobile clinics; children’s and family counselling; orphanages, and schools.
  • Nelson MandelaLegacy: After being in prison for more than 25 years, he was released and became the first black President of South Africa
  • Steve Biko Legacy: Anti-apartheid activist in South Africa (1960s and 1970s). Died while in police custody. Student leader, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, mobilized South Africa’s urban black population. ‘Martyr’ of the anti-apartheid movement.
  • Florence NightingaleLegacy: Founder of modern nursing. Served as a manager of nurses trained by her during the Crimean War, where she organised the tending of wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a highly favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture. Known as “The Lady with the Lamp” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night.
  • Desmond Tutu Legacy: First black Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. Defends human rights, fight poverty, homophobia, racism, and sexism. Believes all humans are beloved of God and deserving of respect and forgiveness. Leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – Post Apartheid
  • Tommy Douglas Legacy: Programs such as Medicare, Canada’s pension plan, and bargaining rights for civil servants were first advocated by Douglas and his party. Today Canadians are grateful.
  • Nano Nagel Legacy: Founder “Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary” in Ireland. Pioneer of R.C. education in Ireland. In 2013, Pope Francis declared Nano Nagel venerable in the R.C. Church. (Note: The Presentation Sisters have served in my province, ‘Newfoundland and Labrador’ since 1833)
  • Martin Luther King Jr.Legacy: Dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality in the United States.
  • Jesus of Nazareth Legacy: Prince of Peace. A great teacher of moral and spiritual values. 
  • Gautama BuddhaLegacy: The Awakended One. A great teacher known for establishing the Dharma, or teaching, that leads to Enlightenment.

    Contemplate Under Your Favoriite Tree

      Weeping Willow, Bowring Park (one of my contemplation buddies)
  • Dalai Lama Legacy: Head of state and spiritual leader of Buddhists around the world and of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh – Legacy: Global spiritual leader, writer, and peace activist, revered for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
  • Rumi – Legacy: Popular writer and poet in both the Islamic and Western worlds. Writings embrace all cultures, nationalities and mythologies. Followers do not feel he imposes any orthodox belief; integrates multiple religious traditions into a universal expression of Divine Love.

Breakdowns and Breakthroughs

Contemplative leaders are known for stepping up to the plate and creating breakthroughs where breakdowns have occurred. At this point in time, our world needs a few more paradigm shifters to show up . We need to create environments that will engage and encourage contemplative leaders to step forward and exert their  ‘values’ driven power. Look to contempletive leaders past and present to inspire and motivate us to focus on ‘being the change’ which Gandhi referenced. Together, with the will and focused energy, we will shift limiting paradigms and begin co-creating a brighter tomorrow.

The ultimate value of life depends on awareness, and the power of contemplation rather than mere survival. – Aristotle

I have studied, read and researched the topic of leadership from many viewpoints and within all sectors for many years. One thing I have discovered is that certain leadership competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities) have been in  the marketplace for decades, yet contemplation is rarely included in popular leadership and management development programs. Marrying the two terms, leadership and management, is now passé. Self-leadership in combination with spiritual, social and emotional intelligence have been creating waves.

Conducting research in this area quickly reveals the fact there is a growing interest in these overlying topics that have everything to do with people and relationships: self-leadership, people’s behavior, positive psychology, emotional, social and spiritual intelligence.

It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

Why develop a contemplative practice?

Mirabai Bush notes, “contemplative practices create space to be loving and forgiving even if the person loved or forgiven is not present or available. Such practices reveal basic unity and wholeness and remind us of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing” or interconnection and what Merton calls the knowing that “everything that is, is holy.” Both true forgiveness (one person’s moral response to another’s injustice) and reconciliation (two parties coming together in mutual respect) are more likely when one has the contemplative appreciation that we are not separate, and that we all yearn for the same healing.”

We set great store by communal peace and harmony. Anything that subverts that harmony is injurious, not just to the community, but to all of us, and therefore forgiveness is an absolute necessity for continued human existence. – Desmond Tutu

Sageocracy: Wisdom of the Sages

Quotes Worthy of Contemplation…

What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love.  – Meister Eckhart

We become what we contemplate.  – Plato

Trees are good for contemplation: Plato and Aristotle did their best thinking in the groves of olives and figs around Athens and Buddha found enlightenment under a peepul tree. – Colin Tudge

The aim of art is not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. – Steve Biko

Life’s Toolkit: Potential Additions


I share the following list of books and authors, many of which I have either read or have added them to My 2017 List of Books to Read:

Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert used a special “track your happiness” iPhone app to gather research. The results: We spend at least half our time thinking about something other than our immediate surroundings, and most of this daydreaming doesn’t make us happy. Contemplation develops our capacity to awaken to the present moment; a focused mind can see clearly.

Other Resources

Academy for Contemplative and Ethical Leadership

Infograph: The Tree of Contemplative Practice

Poetry and Song Lyrics

Sung by A Few of My Favorite Artists


Contemplative leaders listen with conscious awareness.  They remain open and curious as if awaiting for a gold nugget to be revealed. Leaders who contemplate have a tendency to be creative. It is in their nature to co-create visions using their values as reference points, collectively accompishing things while breaking down silos and opening closed doors. Adopting refreshing new techniques to begin dialogues comes with the territory. Living a spiritually awakened inner life, involves operating from the heart, listening to our intuition, and being sensitive to gut reactions. Humans are ‘inter-beings’ we are ‘interconnected’ (Thich Nhat Hanh). Contemplation involves being fully awake and aware of the tensions that exist between a rich inner world while living and surviving the day to day grind of the outer world. I challenge you to beome a contemplative leader.  Consider adding a few of the tools and resources highlighted in this post to your toolkit for life.


Daphne MacNeil

Leaders and Life Strategist and In-Leaders™ Coach

Copyright © 2016 Daphne MacNeil

error: Content is protected !!